Take a Trivia Quiz about the Queen City (that’s Denver) and our Hilltop neighborhood.

If you have a question you’d like to ask our History of Hilltop Team, please send it to [email protected]

Western History Collection, DPL

Q: How do I find out about my home’s history?

A:  The short answer is that all it takes is time and a little footwork.

Property records and chain of titles for most homes are available from the website of the Denver Assessor’s Office but keep in mind the records on the website may not date back far enough for your home.  That may then require a trip to the Office at City Hall to locate the complete chain of ownership.  The Denver Clerk and Recorder also has real estate and some historical documents on line.

The research library at History Colorado and the Denver Public Library Western History and Genealogy Department at the main branch downtown are both excellent resources for a homeowner interested in history.  You can research the people who lived in your home, the developers who built it and the entertaining and enterprising pioneers, trailblazers and scallywags that populate Colorado and Denver history.   We suggest reading Hilltop Heritage by the late Alice Millett Bakemeier, The Story of Modern East Denver by Phil Goodstein, and Denver – Mining Camp to Metropolis co-written by Tom Noel and  Stephen Leonard, and Dana Crawford: 50 Years Saving the Soul of a City by Mike McPhee.

During the Coronvirus Pandemic, this essay from CITYLAB landed in our email inbox and it is a fun tutorial in how to explore the history of your own street or neighborhood: How To Discover the History of Your Neighborhood, Without Leaving Home.

If you are interested in historic preservation and/or pursuing landmark historic designation for your home or even perhaps another old home or building in our neighborhood, the non-profit organization Historic Denver can help. They have created a Historic Designation FAQ guide, which answers many of the questions they commonly receive from property owners. Contact Preservation Coordinator Shannon Stage at 303-534-5288, ext. 6 if you have questions or want to get started!

Q: Who developed the street naming system in Denver that’s alphabetical, with a name first, and then something botanical? Albion/Ash, etc.?

A:  This answer provided by local historian Phil Goodstein:  You can thank Charles Stoll for that one. His double alphabetical remodeling of the street names running from Colorado Boulevard to Yosemite Street arrived in 1904.

The pattern is a proper noun name, ideally British, followed by the name of a tree or plant. Albion and Ash, Bellaire and Birch, Clermont and Cherry.

The switch wasn’t without resistance from those wealthy neighborhoods. When Eudora Avenue became Fir Street, residents decried the name as “too plebeian.”

Charles Stoll was really, really committed to his craft. He served as Denver’s chief draftsman for 40 years, and was badly burned when he ran into a blazing city hall to rescue engineering records in 1901.  Stoll was part of a movement led by Henry C. Maloney to bring order to Denver’s chaotic streets. Before the so-called Maloney System took hold in 1897, some streets in Denver would have as many as ten different names as they continued in one direction, or even have unique labels depending on the map. It was at best annoying, as tourists got lost and water utility customers got double-billed, and at worst deadly, as fire and police officials would also get lost.

The Hilltop Bomber Crash from the Colorado Encyclopedia (another great resource for historical research)

Q: Why does the road curve in the middle of the blocks between 3rd and 4th Avenues & Holly and Colorado Blvd?

A:  This answer provided by the late Alice Millett Bakemeier, local historian and author of Hilltop Heritage, A History and Guide to a Denver Neighborhood. Prior to her passing, she gave us permission to post snippets of history from her book, which is out of print but occasional used copies may be snapped up on Amazon if you are lucky!  Here was she had to say about “Thrice Place” in her book:

“Directly north of 340 Bellaire, the road curves along the boundary line of two separately platted subdivisions.  At the curve there is some evidence of a 30-foot-wide strip of formerly vacant land that ran from Colorado Blvd to Holly Street.  This eccentric feature was platted by Malone and BuBois in 1892 at the southern end of their subdivision for the “right of way for electric cars and water and gas mains,” according to the abstracts.

In 1926 the city’s proposal to open the property as “Public Highway and Street” was dismissed.  However, strips on Ash Street were used by the city for alleys.  In some spots garages have been inserted in this 30-foot space, and during World War II one patriotic citizen bought a piece for a Victory Garden.

During the 1920s this three and a half acres of land east of Clermont was held by the Denver Land Company.  Several pieces were sold privately, and in 1937 the rest of the strip was sold for $100 to its president, Henry Wolcott Toll, who sold it off, piecemeal, to adjacent householders.

Toll, eager to make the most of his holding, “asked his architect-nephew to design a long narrow ship-like house that would fit into this 30-foot space,” according to his son, Henry.  Plans were drafter for a two-story house, 20-feet wide with a 20-foot set back for parking and a 15-foot lawn at the other end.  This house was never built, as city ordinance #119 was passed in 1956, requiring a 50-foot frontage for houses.  However, at 344 Cherry Street a small house built in 1938 by Herbert Brock was tucked into a 42-foot space – the reserved strip plus 12 feet of the lot to the north.

Tolls sons, Henry and Giles, tell about an altercation that arose in 1946 between their father and his old East High School rival, George Cranmer, the Manager of Improvements and Parks.  Toll wanted curbs put on the streets at the point of the reserved strip, but Cranmer refused.  Toll then hired a farmer to plow up and down the strip all day, heaping mud at the crossings to prevent access across the streets.  The astonished neighbors and police and fire departments asked the farmer what in thunder he was doing.  “Just plowing,” was the nonchalant reply.  Toll’s answer to Cranmer was, “Put in curbs and I’ll give you the right-of-way.”  The curbs soon appeared.

This unusual anomaly of formerly public property traversing a residential area may yet lead to additional interesting situations.  For example, in 1982, during the sale of a house built partially on Thrice Place, a realtor was informed by the Department of Public Works that the house had been built over an existing eight-inch city sewer line without permission.  The owner could be liable for damages should the pipe become blocked and need repairing on the property.”

Editor’s note: Mrs. Bakemeier was prophetic. We are still finding “interesting situations” of this sort with our current “Phantom Alley” issue.  

If you have a question you’d like to ask our History of Hilltop Team, please send it to [email protected]